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The official news site of J.W. North High School

The North Star Online

The official news site of J.W. North High School

The North Star Online

Why Women Give Birth Lying Down

Fashion History
A portrait of King Louis XIV, painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud.

Working against gravity is more difficult than working with gravity. Most women in the U.S. give birth lying on their back even though the position has been proven to cause labor to last longer and lead to more painful contractions. What could possibly be the appeal?

A widespread rumor about King Louis XIV is reinforced by Lauren Dundes in the American Journal of Public Health. Dundes writes that the king enjoyed having a clear view of the birthing process whenever his wives had his children so he demanded they lie on their backs during labor.  This king’s supposed obsession definitely could have influenced the spread of the inconvenient laboring position but there is also an alternative, more logical possibility.

For nurses and doctors, having the patient lie down on their back during labor makes monitoring contractions and the fetal heart rate easier. This preference is further explained on It is important that doctors are able to work efficiently but that is still possible while a patient is in a position that utilizes gravity and is more comfortable. The preference of doctors is accommodated, while the additional discomfort for patients in labor is overlooked.

Lying down while giving birth can elongate the process because dilation of the cervix takes longer. Squatting is an example of a position that speeds up dilation with the natural phenomenon, of gravity.

A few upright positions that can make the process of labor go more smoothly are kneeling, squatting, and being on all fours. There are pros and cons to each position; while some mainly benefit doctors, others make the process less taxing for the patient. 

An epidural is an injection near the spinal cord that helps to make contractions less painful. Positions such as unsupported squatting, kneeling, and being on all fours are not options after receiving an epidural. Additionally, if a patient is losing too much blood, being upright could worsen the bleeding. There is not one single labor position that is the best because it really depends on the patient and the situation they are in.

A freshman student at JW North, Lev Gross, says, “Young pregnant women are especially likely to feel that they should let doctors do what they want when providing them care because of either a lack of confidence or lack of knowledge. Alternative birthing positions should be talked about more.”

Pregnant patients, whether they are in labor or not, should advocate for themselves and doctors should lay out the different options to avoid traumatic and excessively painful birthing experiences.

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Sarai Gross, Editor

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